Great is all relative

A month from now, I’ll be done with cancer treatment. I’m sure I’ll celebrate with close friends after I recover from the mediport removal, and I plan to hold a larger party to benefit Pink Jams in early October. But, celebrations seem bittersweet right now.

I’m beyond lucky and blessed that this aggressive strain of cancer was caught early. And, I’m thankful that I’m almost done with treatment. I also appreciate that my life has been enriched and my relationship clarified because of my diagnosis.

“Then why is this bittersweet, City Girl?” you might be wondering.

The short answer is that I still don’t feel like myself. I was the girl who would receive compliments from strangers about her hair on a daily basis. I was the woman who could get a guy to notice her just by a flip of her long, red locks. I was the 36-year-old who was approached by a modeling agent because of her height, weight and hair.

Then, I was the girl who got attention for being bald. I might have felt ill and frustrated by the weight I had gained from the steroids, but I could justify that. I was a walking advocacy opportunity.

Now, with my short hair that curls at the end thanks to chemotherapy and the inability to lose those last ten pounds, I look like I’m auditioning for a middle-aged woman who can blend in the crowd. And, suffice it to say, I hate blending in a crowd.

Are all of these concerns vain? Completely.
Are all of these feelings valid? Yes.

I keep asking people not to talk about my hair, and I just smile and say thanks when people say that I look great.

It seems nicer than saying: Yes, it’s great that I’m not still in chemo and that you feel more comfortable because I now have hair.

“But, your hair will grow back!” I’ve heard.

Yes, it will — in approximately three years! You don’t tell someone who’s starting law school that they’re almost done, right?

I have been doing more over the past two weeks, and for that, I am thankful. But, I’m still getting sick almost every day from the non-chemotherapy cancer medication that I took for only five days last month!

This, too, shall pass, I realize. And, I fully appreciate that this could be so, so, so much worse. But, please, let me be vain and angry and not have to roll my eyes with all the well-intentioned comments about how beautiful I look and how short hair flatters me.

If you have a couple of minutes, this scene with Maura Tierney from Rescue Me (at about 4:30-5:30) captures what I want to do anytime people say how great I look or how wonderful it must feel for this to be almost over.

I’d rather be bald!

When I went to the Infusion Room last month, the nurses all looked at me with surprise and excitement.

Nurse: Your hair is growing so fast!

Me: I know.

Manager: It looks great.

Me: Thanks! But, I’d rather be bald than have short hair.

And, I honestly would. I appreciate that an overwhelming majority of women feel differently from me on this issue, but I’m always going to be upfront about my views.

I’ve received compliments on my hair from friends and strangers. To my friends, I respond:

Thanks! I hate it, though.

Friends: You do? I think it highlights your face and looks sexy! Why don’t you like it?

Me: It’s not me. When I was bald, no one assumed that I chose that look. With short hair, people think I did. I like short hair on other people, but I don't like it on me. Never have. My long hair is part of my identity.

When strangers ask me where I get my hair cut, I reply:

Umm…this is from chemo.

They look at me with worry in their eyes, and I assure them that I wasn’t offended in the slightest by their comment.

Me: No worries! I appreciate the compliment. (Hey, I've never denied being vain.)

But, I still don’t look in the mirror or at photographs of myself and see me. It might be my mind’s way of coping with a change over which I've had no control, or it might be that I don’t consider my recuperation finished until my old long locks are back.

The goal is this:


Photo Credit: Guest of a Guest at Hudson Restaurant

But, I promise to stop rolling my eyes and whining when my hair reaches my shoulders. For those of you who know me, do you really see me with a modern pixie or a soccer mom bob? Really? It's going to be a rough two years between my current Sheena Easton 'do and long hair!

Since this post is all about what I’m missing, I’ll also add eyelashes and fingernails into the mix. My eyelashes had finally started growing back, but I lost half of them last week taking my mascara off. And, just this week – more than SIX months after my last round of chemotherapy, my last dead fingernail fell off. I never imagined that losing fingernails would be so painful, but it still hurts a bit to type or text.

There are many things that I will never take for granted again. Ponytails, frizz, long lashes and healthy nails are all high on that list!

Thanks for indulging me during my Cancer-versary Week! I’ll get back to dating stories, product reviews and sex advice posts tomorrow. xoxo

The Evil Cancer Med

If a person is diagnosed with breast cancer, a doctor runs tests on the cancer cells to determine if they are:

1. Estrogen receptor positive;
2. Progesterone receptor positive; and
3. HER2/neu positive.

What does that even mean?

Well, for the first two, do estrogen and progesterone (hormones that naturally occur in the body) cause the cancer cells to grow? Approximately 75% of breast cancer patients test positive for estrogen receptors, and 66% of patients for progesterone receptors. Hormone receptor positive cancer grows slower than cancer that isn't hormone receptor positive.

The latter category, HER2/neu, occurs when there's a gene mutation and the cancer tests positive for an excess of proteins on the cells. These proteins cause the cancer to be aggressive and fast growing. Only 20% of patients test positive for HER2/neu.

I had triple-positive breast cancer since I tested positive for the hormone and protein receptors. My aggressive strain of cancer was thankfully caught early, and I can benefit from the use of drugs that help prevent a recurrence and lower the amount of estrogen and progesterone in my body.

Once every three weeks for a year, I receive an IV of Herceptin to kill the protein receptors on my cancer cells and reduce the change of this returning. (Thanks to chemotherapy, radiation and Herceptin, my rate of a Stage 4 (metastatic) recurrence within 10 years went from a minimum of 60% to 15%!)

Compared to chemotherapy, receiving an IV of Herceptin is a breeze! The side effects are mild, and the IV takes only 30-40 minutes out of my day. Once I finish receiving Herceptin in late September, I should be done with visits to the Chemo Room!

If you meet someone who says that she has triple negative breast cancer, she has the most aggressive type of breast cancer. Aside from surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, there’s nothing yet available to help prevent the cancer from recurring. I hope and pray that research will advance in the very near future to change that.

For those of us who are hormone receptor positive, the most commonly prescribed oral medication to block estrogen in our system in the hopes of preventing a recurrence is tamoxifen.

I prefer to call the drug: The Evil Cancer Med.

Tamoxifen is taken once a day for five years. When I read about the potential side effects, I was concerned. I talked to my oncologist about the fact that tamoxifen causes a lot of the side effects (nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headaches and fevers) that I already have from my other health conditions. By early May, I was finally starting to feel more like myself, and I honestly didn’t want to be sick again.

My doctor assured me that the majority of patients tolerate tamoxifen well. Tamoxifen has been used for over 30 years, and it's as essential to preventing a recurrence as chemotherapy.

“Okay,” I thought to myself. “This is important.”

I said a prayer before I took the first dose. That evening, I started to feel nauseous and then vomited. Several hours later, I got a very bad migraine. I took my strong migraine medicine, but the pain and vomiting lasted through the morning.

I called the oncologist’s office, and they suggested that I switch to a half dose of the medication. As the week progressed, the side effects – even on a half of a dose – increased. I was still nauseous with a dull headache. I felt dizzy, I had trouble sleeping, and I would cry for no reason. It took me an entire afternoon to edit a few pages that I wrote. And, sapping my body of estrogen sent my sex drive from 100mph to 0mph. (Did I still have sex? Of course. But, I had a really hard time reaching orgasm.)

I’ve had hot flashes since early November when I started to have chemo-induced menopause. But, the tamoxifen quadrupled them.

This is City Girl.

This is City Girl having a hot flash.

Notice how my face matched the color of my hair and dress!

I wondered how my body would handle the full dose of tamoxifen – everyday for FIVE years! But, then, something happened that made my doctor stop my use of the drug immediately.

To be continued…


Open to interpretation – Part 2

Best Boy had just told me that he loved me. Did the fact that he said it for the first time ever while we were having sex negate the sentiment behind the words? Was he drunk and this was a case in which I should blame it on the alcohol? Did he really love me? Did he just love having sex with me? Or both?

Between the steroids, the chemo-induced menopause and the late hour, I wasn’t thinking clearly before Best Boy came over. I really didn’t know what to think now.

We flipped over so that I was on top of him.

Me [smiling]: You said you loved me.

Best Boy smiled back at me. We looked each other in the eyes before kissing again. After we finished having sex, I laid on top of him for a few minutes. We fell asleep for a bit before I woke up and moved back to the bedroom. (Best Boy and I never slept on the sofa bed together when one of my girlfriends was already asleep in my bedroom. I'm not exactly sure how that had become our mode, but it worked.)

I heard Best Boy wake up in the morning and went back out in the living room to join him. We cuddled and talked on the sofa bed about work and treatment. When there was a pause in the conversation, I asked:

So…what was up with the ‘I love you’ last night?

Best Boy: I knew you weren’t going to let that slide. [We laugh.]

Me [smiling at him]: Correct.

Best Boy: Well, I didn’t put it in context.

Me: Okay.

Best Boy: I have a lot of feelings for you, but I didn’t mean it like I’m IN love with you. I meant that I care about you and HAVE love for you.

Me [smiling]: Okay. I understand. [Short pause.] And, in that case, I love you, too.

He smiled back at me, as his hand touched my cheek.

Best Boy: I knew you were going to bring this up! And, this conversation is going to be a blog post, isn't it? [He says with a grin.]

Me: Yes, it is.

We laughed before I leaned in to kiss him. I decided to take his words at face value. At a minimum, we did care about and have love for each other. We could figure the rest out in due time.

When I heard my friend wake up, I left Best Boy in the living room and headed toward the bathroom.

Me: Just wanted you to know that Best Boy is here so you don’t come out without any pants.

Friend: Best Boy is here?

Me: Yeah.

Friend: I had no idea!

Me [with a mischievous giggle]: Well, thankfully, you’re a heavy sleeper.

Friend [pausing]: Did you have sex with him?

Me [smiling]: Yep.

Friend: Really?!?

Me: Yep. And it felt right. Oh, and he said he loved me, but he might not have meant it like that. [She stares at me with wide eyes.] I’ll tell you all about it on the way to brunch…

The next chapter? (Part II)

Best Boy was coming over my place for the first time in seven weeks.  (I wasn't sure of his motivation for doing so, but I thankfully didn't have time to overanalyze the situation.)   When he arrived, I introduced him to my friend, Carly.  They exchanged pleasantries before she headed home.

Once Best Boy and I were alone, it was like no time had passed since our last interaction. His smile was warm, and the conversation was easy.

I had a craving for chicken tenders while I was recouping from chemotherapy, and he had offered to pick some up for me.  Best Boy went into the kitchen to put the tenders on a plate, and I realized how touching this simple act was.  Despite the fact that I had told him that we could no longer sleep together, Best Boy remained giving and kind. (At a time when I was feeling sick and vulnerable, that was just what the doctor ordered!)

When I was finished eating, he reached for my hand, as we watched the game.  At the next commercial break, he moved toward me, kissing me softly and gently.  A part of me wanted to continue, but a larger part of me worried about my relationship with Mr. Agency.  I pulled my lips away and said:

I’m still seeing Mr. Agency, which was why I told you over the phone that we couldn’t mess around.

Best Boy: Okay.

Me [pausing]: But, I've missed you.  [He smiles.]  I just don't know if we could be anything more than we were, given our history.  [Pause.]  And, it's not like you're looking for a relationship.  [He had said that back in August.]

Best Boy: Well, I’m not looking to be in a bad relationship. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t be in a relationship if it was right.  I just know that I’ve lost my focus and gotten caught up in a lot of unnecessary drama in past relationships.  I don't want to be in that situation again.

Me: I can appreciate that.  I guess I’m trying to figure out what I want right now.

Best Boy: I think you change what you want every week!  [We laugh.]

Me: Yeah, I won’t disagree with you.  All bets are off during chemo. [Pause.]  I just don't know if it's even possible for us to be more than friends or friends with benefits.  So much would need to happen for us to work.  I’d need to figure things out with Mr. Agency.  [I use hand gestures to accentuate each point.]  Then, we’d need to figure out if we want the same things.  And then, if we do, you’d need to stop hanging out with Melanie*. (Based on Facebook comments, it appeared as though he and Melanie had been spending time together as more than just friends.  Best Boy's facial expression seems to confirm that what I had gleaned from Facebook was correct.)  And then, if all that happens, you’d have to talk to Mr. Exec.  I really wouldn’t envy you for that conversation.  [He nods.]  That’s a lot of stuff!

Best Boy: It is.

In processing my thoughts out loud with Best Boy, I came to the conclusion that I first needed to decide if I wanted to continue my relationship with Mr. Agency.  I mentioned to Best Boy that I wasn’t sure if Mr. Agency’s work schedule and my needs during treatment were compatible. 

Me: I just need to talk to him and figure things out.

Our eyes became heavy, as the end of the basketball game neared.

Me: You can either stay on the couch or come into the bedroom with me.  But, if you just want to keep me up all night, then you should probably sleep on the couch.  I need some rest!  [We laugh.]

Best Boy: I'm tired, too.  Let me walk Nutter and then we can go to sleep.

After he came to bed, we fell asleep with our arms around each other.   I felt safe…and confused.  I had thought that Best Boy and I were never meant to be more than friends.  And, I had thought that Mr. Agency would continue to be there for me like he had been early on in our relationship.  But now, Mr. Agency was rarely around, and Best Boy was giving me just what I needed.

I needed some clarity about the situation and was thankful that the coming days would give me just that.

To be continued…

* I gave Best Boy's girl the nickname of "Melanie." In retrospect, that might have been confusing since my web designer's real name is Melanie. They are not one in the same.


I had expected that Mr. Agency was coming over to my place in the middle of the day to end our relationship.  He had gone from being attentive and caring during my first round of chemotherapy to MIA during my second round.  I feared that his demanding work schedule and my needs during treatment weren’t compatible.

Mr. Agency walked into my apartment and gave me a big hug and kiss.  He greeted Autumn, and then I went to get him a drink.  He and Autumn had always gotten along well, but now she responded to his questions curtly without a smile on her face.  (Who hasn’t done the same when being protective of a loved one?)

Mr. Agency and I sat down on the couch to watch football, while Autumn continued to work online.  As she focused on writing her paper and I tried to keep my eye on the game, Mr. Agency kept moving closer and closer to me on the sofa.  He put his arm around me and gave me little kisses.  He kept tapping my butt and moving my hand toward his pants.  I looked down and noticed that he was hard underneath his jeans.  I wanted to say:

Aren't we breaking up?  What's going on here?

But, since Autumn was in the room, I went with:

Are you hungry?  [He nods.]  Want to see what I have to eat?

We walked into the kitchen, and he put his arms around me, kissed my neck and lightly spanked my ass. I turned to face him, and he kissed me passionately.  After a minute or two, I removed my lips from his and said:

Where have you been all week?

Mr. Agency: You know that I’ve had a lot going on at work since I got back into town.

Me: I do.  And, most weeks I’m fine with seeing you whenever is convenient, but I can’t do that chemo week.  It's too tough.  [Pause.]  I needed you and you weren't there for me.  I get that you don’t like making firm plans, but if I think you might be coming over, I won’t ask anyone else to. 

Mr. Agency: I'm sorry.

Me: I get that this is a lot and that we're a new relationship.  But, I need all the help I can get during chemo week so for the next round, I’ll need more from you.  It doesn’t matter if it’s late, I just need someone here in case anything bad happens.  Is that okay?

Mr. Agency: Yes.

Me: You can handle a night or two during the next round then?

Mr. Agency: Yep.

We kissed again, and he suggested that we go into the bedroom.

Me [smiling]: Sure.  Give me a minute so I can talk to Autumn first.  [He headed into the bedroom.]

Me [to Autumn]: Well, I’m kind of surprised, but I guess everything is cool.

Autumn: Really?  Why didn’t he come over until today?

Me: Work stuff.  But, I let him know that he needs to let me know when he’s coming over and be more attentive during the next round.

Autumn: And, he’s okay with that?

Me: He said he was. 

I thanked Autumn for being so protective of me and said goodbye in case she wasn’t still at my place when Mr. Agency and I were done.  (For those of you who are wondering, there’s a second bedroom in my apartment to separate my bedroom from the living room.  I didn’t have to worry about Autumn hearing anything.)

I smiled to myself as I walked down the hall and joined Mr. Agency in the bedroom.


Feeling Lucky

I had let Best Boy know that we needed to take the “benefits” out of our “friends with benefits” arrangement.  It surprised me that he cared more about me than he had led on, but my energy – in and out of the bedroom – was focused on my new relationship with Mr. Agency.

Mr. Agency and I continued to see each other two or three times a week.  His schedule typically precluded us from going out on dates, but we had found a good balance.

My mood in mid-September was less lighthearted, when I learned that I needed chemotherapy.  I was worried how the drugs would change me — and us.

Me: You realize that this is going to get a lot worse, right?

Mr. Agency: Yes, and I'll be here for you.

Me: I just feel really vulnerable now. Like I don't want cancer to be the reason why we don't work out.

Mr. Agency: That's not going to happen.

Me: If I'm bald?

Mr. Agency: I'll help you find a hot wig. Some look that you've always wanted to try. You are going to look sexy no matter what!

Me [smiling as I bury my head in his chest]: Maybe…what if I lose my sex drive?

Mr. Agency: That's not going to happen with you.

Me [laughing out loud]: Misty joked that if I lose my sex drive, I would still have a normal person's drive.

Mr. Agency: Exactly.  And, if you lose your drive, then it just means that I have to work harder.

I kissed him, as I fought back tears of happiness. That feeling only increased after I had my port* installed.  I hadn’t expected the procedure to install the port to be so painful and was surprised at how rough I felt.

My friend, Tricia, was over helping me out that evening, when Mr. Agency texted me to see how I was doing.  He offered to come over after his event.

Tricia: Are you sure you want him to see you like this?

Me; Since I’m hurting so much?  [She nods.]  I think so.  Chemo is going to be much tougher.  If he can’t handle this, then at least I’ll know.

Tricia: I can see that.  [Pause.]  Are you going to be okay if he can’t handle it?

Me: I hope so.  I’m sure it would hurt a bit, but better to find out now than later.

There was a knock on the door, and Tricia went to answer it.  (She had met Mr. Agency once before when we all went for a dog walk together.)

Mr. Agency [to Tricia]: How’s she doing?

Tricia: Not so good.  She’s in a lot of pain.  Will you be able to help her out tonight?

Mr. Agency: Definitely.

And, he did just that.  He held me close, brought me water, walked my dog, and kissed me sweetly.  He understood that I wasn’t up for having sex and didn’t push me.  He reminded me that he would be there for me and that I’d get through this.

In the midst of the pain, I smiled.  I felt very, very lucky.

* A port is a tiny device that is surgically inserted under the skin in your chest and provides access to a vein.  It makes receiving chemotherapy much, much easier, and eliminates the pain associated with not finding a vein.  If you or a loved one needs to get chemo, I highly recommend getting a port!

Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time, there was a Little City Girl.  Her parents raised her with love, support and opportunities.  They let her know that she could be anything that she wanted to be when she was older.

At 14, Little City Girl told her father that she wanted to go to Wellesley College and become a lawyer.

“Why do you want to be a lawyer?” he inquired.

“Because I like to write, debate and help people,” Little City Girl replied.

When she went to Wellesley several years later, the professors also impressed upon her and her classmates that they could be and do anything.

A college internship brought City Girl to Washington, DC, in 1993, and she fell in love with the nation’s capital.  After her internship ended, she stayed in DC and got a job as a legal assistant.  She went on to law school, and when she finally started to work as an attorney, she was thankful that an instinct that she had 12 years prior was the right one.

In her first job, she noticed that wearing a short skirt or a fitted sweater to work prompted inappropriate comments from her bosses.  With each subsequent position, she sported more pants suits and felt more comfortable informing male colleagues that their behavior was unacceptable.

She also learned that although her dating stories were entertaining, she had to be selective about what she shared with co-workers.  One partner only knew that she was dating an NFL player – without any specifics – and thought it funny to walk into a meeting after a football game, saying:

Your boyfriend can’t handle his balls.

In theory, she could do anything professionally that she wanted.  But, unfortunately, that didn’t mean that her age, gender, appearance or sexuality wouldn’t be topics of conversation or affect other people’s perceptions of her around the office.

When City Girl left firm life for a nonprofit, she began doing some legal policy work.  She always relied on facts and the law, rather than emotions, when speaking about a polarizing issue, but that didn’t stop a few very conservative people from sending her office hate mail.  Her former boss approached her about doing policy work exclusively.  She was flattered, but she worried that she would miss working directly with the clients if she chose that path.

In 2008, she decided to take a sabbatical from the law to focus on health issues and finish her master’s program.  As she prepared to write her thesis, she thought it would be fun to start blogging about her dating adventures.  She chose to blog anonymously so that if she reentered the policy arena, her sexuality wouldn’t be used against her.  (If she had received several pieces of hate mail and comments about her appearance or significant others without provocation, she knew that her sex life and dating mishaps would become ammunition for those who disagreed with her politics.)

As her blog readership grew, she began attending events as City Girl.  Quite a few people in DC knew both her real name and blog link, but they kindly respected her privacy.  Local online publications were also understanding, taking her picture with her name or quoting her as City Girl without using her name or face.  She managed with the help of others to remain anonymous from the legal policy world.

In 2010, City Girl wondered if it was worth taking another year away from the law to see where her blog could go and start teaching sexual health workshops.  She joined the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists and attended their annual conference. She also found a platform, as she wrote about the use of toxic ingredients in sex toys and the need for self-regulation.  Lotus Blooms and Fascinations at Fun Love approached her about writing for their sites and reviewing body-friendly products for them.  She began to ponder how she could advocate for safe sex toys on a larger scale.

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in June of 2010, she decided to use her experience to try to raise awareness and help others.  Her friends and doctors knew that she was willing to talk about what she was going through, and opportunities to do just that followed.  The more that she talked about her experience and let others in, the more she wanted to continue to do so.

She finished chemotherapy and realized that she is stronger than she thought that she was.  She also realized that there’s much more for her to do as an advocate and that it’s time to come out from behind her laptop.  If she can help one more person through her blog, her photographs or her interviews, it’s worth it.  She accepts that she may never work again in the legal policy arena, although she wishes that there wasn’t a double standard with respect to female sexuality in the workplace.

Once upon a time, there was a City Girl with long, red hair named Stef Woods.

Stef Woods, City Girl, City Girl Blogs


Photo Credit: Kristina Hopper Photography

She’s bald now, but she still feels sexy.


Stef Woods, City Girl, City Girl Blogs

Photo Credit: Moshe Zusman Photography

Although she’s not exactly sure what will happen next, she trusts that she will live happily ever after.

Graduation Day

She dresses in layers on a bitterly cold morning in January, as she heads for the doctor’s office for her last round of chemotherapy.  Her eye twitches from three months without enough sleep.  Her pale face turns beat red with every hot flash.  She’s crabby from all the steroids.  Her taste buds are almost completely gone, replaced with a constant taste of dull metal in her mouth.  And, she’s still nauseous and throwing up from the last round of chemotherapy three weeks ago.

“You look kind of glum,” her doctor commented with a note of surprise.

“I’m so over this,” she replies.  “I don’t want anymore.”

“Given how you’ve been feeling, you have to expect that this round will be the worst.  The effects are cumulative.  You probably won’t feel better from this round for six weeks.”

Six weeks?!?” she exclaims.

She goes in the bathroom and cries.  The average person recoups from a round of chemotherapy in a week to 10 days.  The average person just needs one day of IVs per round, and that’s it.

For her, six rounds of chemotherapy translated into 26 days of IVs.  (Her body really didn’t respond well to chemotherapy so she needed more drugs and fluids to alleviate the side effects.)  She knows that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but she doesn’t want six more weeks of feeling this poorly.

She takes a night to process that the next six weeks will be rough and then decides to focus on the positive.  As the week progresses, she feels worse physically, but better emotionally.  By mid-February, the effects of chemotherapy will be a thing of the past.  This was caught early.  She is lucky.  And, she has faith that she will fall within the 85% of people whose cancer doesn’t return in five years.

She thinks of all the many blessings in her life.  She has the best health insurance and medical care available.  She has never had to go to the chemotherapy room alone.  Her friends were by her side at each and every visit – all 26 of them. 

As the week draws to a close, she returns for her last day of chemo-related IVs.  She sees a 32-year-old woman getting her first round of chemotherapy.  The young woman looks like a deer in headlights.

“I’m sure this seems surreal.  I was there, too.  You’ll get through it, though, and if you need anything, just call me,” she tells her.

A few hours later, the last drops of fluid drip from her IV bag.  She and her friend watch, holding hands with tears in their eyes and smiles on their faces.  The nurse comes over with tears in her eyes to announce to the room that she has graduated.  She knows that she will remember that feeling for the rest of her life.

She did it. 

She’ll begin 30 sessions of radiation later this month.  And, because her aggressive type of breast cancer is HER2+, she’ll need to receive an IV of a drug called Herceptin once every three weeks through September.

The light at the end of the tunnel almost blinds her from its brightness.  She wipes tears of pride, joy and gratitude from her cheeks and smiles.

She’s done. 

She prays that she will never have to go through that again.  And, she vows to continue doing what she can to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer prevention and research. 

We all need to have a plan after graduation, don't we?

How Is Chemo Like Sex?

I find myself being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I’m halfway through chemotherapy.  Halfway.  Three down and three to go.  The end is in sight.

How did my third round go?  It was…different.  I learned that my iron and red blood counts were low from hemorrhaging after my second round.  I needed five days of iron IVs, in addition to my normal three days of post-chemotherapy IVs, to try to bring my counts up before my next treatment.  Between the added IVs and the fact that my pressure was dangerously low at 63/44, my oncologist advised me to do a whole lot of nothing for ten days.  The hope is that all those IVs and taking it easy will help my counts increase. If they don't go up by November 22nd, my next treatment will be postponed.  Positive thoughts and prayers are currently being accepted since I don’t want my treatment to be delayed.

I’ve been thinking lately that chemotherapy and sex have a lot in common.  (Yes, you read that correctly.) 

Let me count the ways:

1. Everybody and every body are different.  I try to include disclaimers with every Sex Advice post that what works for one person in the bedroom might not work for another.  It’s important to know your body and listen to your partner’s body to ensure the best possible experience.

When it comes to chemo, oncologists prescribe different combinations of chemotherapy drugs, depending on the type of cancer, the severity or stage, and the patient’s health.  The same cancer can be treated in a variety of ways, and every patient responds uniquely;

2. You never know how long it’s going to last.  With sex, you don’t always know going in if it will be a quickie or a two-hour, multi-position marathon.  With chemo, some low-dose regimes are given every day in a row for only two or three weeks.  Stronger chemotherapy drugs are typically administered once every two or three weeks for a minimum of four rounds;

3. Hair matters.  In the bedroom, personal grooming south of the border is important.  Paging Model Boy…  With respect to chemo, it’s an unfortunate rite of passage if you are given a powerful form of chemotherapy that causes hair loss;

4. You might not be able to predict how you’ll feel afterward.  There’s no rhyme or reason as to why one person can feel perfectly content after a one-night stand or sex with an ex-partner, while another feels more negative emotions.  Biologically, women experience an endorphin rush after reaching orgasm, while men experience a reverse sensation and feel like sleeping.  How many times have you finished having sex and come out of the experience with a distinctly different take or energy level than your partner? 

Having chemo is very similar in this regard.  Two people can respond to the same treatment in very disparate ways.  One person can just feel tired after chemotherapy, and another person has every possible side effect;

5. The purpose varies.  Sometimes sex is just sex.  Sometimes sex is an expression of love.  Sometimes sex is a way to say, “goodbye,” at the end of a relationship.  And, sometimes, sex is like a drug.

Chemotherapy serves a variety of purposes, too.  For some, it provides hope, while for others, it’s used to prepare the body for transplants.  And, in the roughest of cases, it’s administered as a last resort; and

6. The Finish Line!  Hey, I’m not knocking the enjoyment to be had during the process, but don’t we all hope to cum by the time we’re done having sex?  It’s not called climax for nothing!  With chemotherapy, the finish line is also the goal.  All that matters is getting there.

How is chemo not like sex?

One is my favorite thing to do, and one is my least favorite thing to do.  But, I think that’s stating the obvious. xoxo